Donegal had to settle for second best after a battle in Croke Park with the game turning on a second half goal by Kieran Donaghy.
They say goals win games and it was especially true in this senior final. Kerry got one with the first attack and then were gifted one ten minutes into the second half when Kieran Donaghy intercepted Paul Durcan’s kick out and hit the decisive score.
Donegal battled back to get within a point and then at the very end were denied by the post as Colm McFadden almost got them a draw.
It was one of those days when certain things did not go right, but overall Kerry proved up for the battle and probably just about deserved the victory.
Donegal started with Darach ‘Jigger’ O’Connor on the starting team, something of a surprise while Rory Kavanagh’s inclusion was anticipated.
The first half was a real game of cat and mouse but despite that both sides had a number of goal scoring opportunities.
Only one goal was put on the board and that came before the first minute had ended with Paul Geaney fielding a long ball on the edge of the square and firing low to the corner, deceiving Paul Durcan.
It looked like a disastrous start for Donegal when a high ball came back off the upright on three minutes and Kieran Donaghy had the simple task of firing over.
It took Donegal a little while to get going but Leo McLoone, who had a storming first half, won a free on five minutes and Michael Murphy settled matters with a free. They had to wait until the 12th minute for their second point, Murphy availing of the award being moved on and firing over from 47m.
Paul Geaney pointed a free for Kerry after Donaghy engineered a free for himself and the Donegal line had a narrow escape when a long ball hopped over everybody including the advancing Paul Durcan and went just wide.
Leo McLoone won another free for Michael Murphy to point for the third time on 16 minutes and when Murphy took another free short to Ryan McHugh, he won a free and Colm McFadden had Donegal back within a point on 22 minutes.
They almost got in for a goal two minutes later when Rory Kavanagh made a great break and released Darach O’Connor but the young Buncrana man just couldn’t find the range from a narrow angle and the ball trickled wide.
At the other end, Donegal were lucky to escape when Paul Geaney - their biggest tormentor in the opening half - won another high ball and dummied but fired over the crossbar from point blank range.
Christy Toye came in for O’Connor on 27 minutes and immediately made an impact, just as he did against Dublin. The St. Michael’s man released Odhran MacNiallais and even though the Gaoth Dobhair man was dispossessed, the ball fell for him and he first timed over the crossbar from 30m.
Four minutes from the break, the Donegal wave of attack was rewarded again when Anthony Thompson found Karl Lacey and he levelled matters with his left. Lacey had another chance just before the half-time whistle, again after great work by Leo McLoone, but his effort went just wide.
Half-time: Donegal 0-6, Kerry 1-3.
Two minutes into the second half Donegal took the lead for the only time in the game when Leo McLoone lost possession but it fell to Michael Murphy to fire over from distance.
However, Kerry responded with Paul Murphy firing over from under the Cusack Stand.
After a period of stalemate Kerry were back in front on 50 when Barry John Keane pointed a free.
But it was what happened a minute later that was the big turning point. Kieran Donaghy got a hand to Paul Durcan’s kick-out and he was then one-on-one with Durcan and fired to the net.
Donegal, to their credit, responded magnificently with three points in three minutes. Michael Murphy and Martin McElhinney created points for Patrick McBrearty and McElhinney found Neil McGee up from defence to fire over and leave just a point in it again.
Johnny Buckley hit a magnificent point to edge Kerry two clear and Billy John Keane (free) and Kieran Donaghy (with his fist) pushed Kerry four clear with nine minutes left.
Dermot Molloy replaced Rory Kavanagh and with his first touch found the range and Christy Toye landed another to cut the deficit to two with five minutes left.
But Donegal were unable to get the goal they needed. Bryan Sheehan came on to fire over a 45m free on 68 minutes as they played keep ball. It was working until two minutes into added time when Michael Murphy burst through and found Patrick McBrearty. From close range his effort was half-blocked but it fell to Colm McFadden, who dived and palmed towards the net from a tight angle but he was denied by the post.
It was to be the final chance as referee Eddie Kinsella sounded the final whistle.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Eamon McGee, Neil McGee (0-1), Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey (0-1), Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh; Odhran MacNiallais (0-1), Leo McLoone, Ryan McHugh; Darach O’Connor, Michael Murphy (0-4,3f), Colm Anthony McFadden (0-1,f). Subs., Christy Toye (0-1) for O’Connor 27; Patrick McBrearty (0-2) for McHugh 45; Martin McElhinney for MacNiallais 49; David Walsh for McLoone 57; Dermot Molloy (0-1) for Kavanagh 64.
Kerry: Brian Kelly; Marc O Se, Aidan O’Mahony, Fionn Fitzgerald; Paul Murphy (0-1), Peter Crowley, Killian Young; Anthony Maher, David Moran; Stephen O’Brien, Johnny Buckley (0-1), Donnchadh Walsh; Paul Geaney (1-2,0-1f), Kieran Donaghy (1-2), James O’Donoghue. Subs., Michael Geaney for O’Brien ht; Barry John Keane (0-2,2f) for P Geaney 49; Shane Enright for Fitzgerald 54; Declan O’Sullivan for D Walsh 57; Bryan Sheehan (0-1,f) for Moran 68; Kieran O’Leary for Donaghy 70.
Referee: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)